The energy during Monday’s celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day was impossible to miss at First Baptist Church, Second and Walnut streets.
For more than 30 years, the event has taken place to honor and remember King, a man who stood at the front lines of the civil rights movement in America.
Swann, who was a close friend and co-worker of Bartleson, thinks the local civil rights activist would have been pleased with the celebration’s turnout, titled “Let Freedom Ring.”
“We definitely missed Norman,” Swann said. “Although his presence was here today. He devoted his life to civil rights.”
Master of Ceremony Gary Johnson began the event by thanking everyone for making it out, despite the coinciding second inauguration of President Obama, an event Johnson said wouldn’t have been possible without Dr. King.
“We’re back in the church house today where it all started back in the ‘50s,” Johnson said, adding it was time to have “a little bit of church.”
There were several selections of music by the male choir, an inspirational mime about overcoming obstacles in life by 16-year-old Keneisha Johnson, and Parris Bowman, 14, sang a cappella with her father, Barry Bowman.
Parris also performed a solo, “Oh Lord, I Want You to Help Me,” that brought the entire congregation, about 120 people, to their feet and prompted musicians to join in with her.
The annual march commenced about 1:45 p.m. as people of all ages walked in 32-degree weather.
Swann said he wanted marchers to remember what the march is intended for, which is an honor to Dr. King for all he made possible.
“We’ve lost focus on what the march is about,” Swann said, recalling memories of when the march was not so simple.
Swann said the annual march used to provoke Danville residents to spray marchers with water hoses and unleash dogs to torment them.
“As we walk today, keep that in mind,” Swann said.
The march began on Second Street, proceeded toward Main Street and ended back at the church after a full block was circled.
Donna Smith, 60, of Danville said she has been marching as long as she can remember and considers the celebration invaluable.
Although Smith said she has been fortunate in life, and seen the differences of racism between her youth and her son’s, the march serves to remind her to be thankful.
“We all have to march for a purpose,” Smith said. “All people should join together on Martin Luther King Day. It’s important to all races. As long I’m able, I’ll be marching.”
One 15-year veteran of the march, Ernest Dunn, said he worries the youth in Danville are not as engaged in civil rights as they should be. He said the march has been continued by older generations of people who suffered through some of the roughest times of racism.